Hitler expressed the need for indoctrination in many speeches from the beginning of his leadership. This is shown in a quote from a meeting with radio officials on 25th March 1933: ‘the mobilisation of the mind is as necessary as, perhaps even more necessary than, the material mobilisation of the nation.’ The Law on the Hitler Youth also emphasised the indoctrination of the youth: ‘All German young people…will be educated in the Hitler Youth physically, intellectually, and morally in the spirit of National Socialism’. However, although the need for indoctrination was stated, it was not wholly successful. This view is supported by historians including Peukert, Lee, Noakes and Pridham. Small elements of success were present, but resistance showed it could not have been fully successful. Hitler attempted indoctrination of the youth in many ways: through the Hitler Youth, education and propaganda.
Indoctrination of Youth Organisations
Stephen J. Lee confirms this by stating that, ‘indoctrination as a long-term process could be most effectively applied to Germany’s Youth’. This reflects Hitler’s aim to indoctrinate the whole of the youth in preparation for a Nazi state. The main form of indoctrination and inclusion in Nazi Germany was the Hitler Youth. The government appealed to the youth to encourage them to join the Hitler Youth (before it was made compulsory in March of 1939). This is shown by the speech made by the German Young People leader before a child’s vow to the Fuhrer: ‘this hour in which you are to be received into the great community of the Hitler Youth is a very happy one…with your vow and your commitment you now become a bearer of German spirit and German honour’. This would have made the child feel patriotic and like they were participating in something great. The popularity of the Hitler Youth is confirmed by the huge increase in membership between 1933 and 1938. In 1933, only one percent of all youth organisations were Hitler Youth, which increased to two hundred thousand by 1932 and seven million in 1938.
The aim of the Hitler Youth was to prepare the next generation for war and for a successful and elite nation. The Hitler Youth focused on physical and military activities whereas the League of German Girls focused on domestic and maternal tasks to prepare them for the life they will lead when their husbands are at war and home life in general. The youth also saw the Hitler Youth as an opportunity to escape from the adult world and what was expected of them as youths. However, it also gave them a sense of authority and maturity, because they were able to partake in similar activities as their parents. The Hitler Youth prepared physically for war, however, the ideology of Nazism needed to be taught to them and this could only be achieved through education.
Indoctrination through Education
A system of elite schools was set up, all of which emphasised physical training (fifteen percent of school time was taken up with physical education), para-military activities and political education at various levels. This aided in the mobilisation of the nation as a Nazi state. The syllabuses were adapted to include Nazi racial, political and social prejudices. This included race study, eugenics and health biology. Traditional subjects remained but were also adapted – namely maths, biology and history. Biology included ethnic classification, population policy and racial genetics. Literature was manipulated to encourage the ‘consciousness of being German’. The aim of adapting the syllabus was to drill the youth in Nazi ideology and to glorify the traditional Germany, present before the First World War. Indoctrination through education started at an early age – a child’s first book after kindergarten was one aimed at the hatred of the Jews and they had lessons in anti-Semitism and militarism.
This shows that the indoctrination of youths was believed to be important from an early age, as their minds were more easily moulded. However, in order to indoctrinate the youth, the teachers had to be indoctrinated themselves. The need for this was emphasised by the creation of the Law for the re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service in April 1933. The law stated that it wanted to ‘ensure the teaching profession was both politically reliable and ideologically sound’. This succeeded through the NSLB, where teachers were sent on camps which involved military-style exercises and team bonding exercises. One source quotes, ‘only those who have experienced it…only they can educate towards the educational goal of National Socialism’. However, although indoctrination through education was intense, there is little evidence to suggest it was successful.
Was the indoctrination of the youth successful and how did the regime benefit?
Indoctrination proved to be successful in certain areas. This is shown by the denunciation by youths of their families and other acquaintances. This could not have been achieved without indoctrination because it is not a natural occurrence. The regime also benefited through denunciation because the amount of opposition was removed, potentially aiding the regime to success. The use of the Hitler Youth also proved to be successful in that the youth were partaking in indoctrination through everyday life, whilst enjoying it. One quote shows this: ‘the novelty, the drill, the uniform, the camp life, the fact that school and the parental home take a back seat compared to the community of young people’. Indoctrination through propaganda also projected an image of a ‘Fuhrer figure’ of Hitler which was a positive, caring image aimed at encouraging the nation to support Hitler and his beliefs. In the long term, indoctrination would have helped prevent further opposition, enabling the Nazi State to mature. However, it has been proved that indoctrination was not successful because the aims intended of it were not achieved.
How did indoctrination fail?
A report claimed that ‘political indoctrination and education, particularly to prepare people for war, (was) still completely inadequate…one can regard it as an almost total failure’. This showed how, even those in authority and therefore, possibly other people of the time didn’t believe indoctrination had been successful or mobilised the country ready for war. Resistance also occurred, suggesting that the youth had not been successfully indoctrinated. Had it been successful, the Nazi party would have had one hundred percent consent from the youth.
Was there Resistance? To What? By Whom?
There was resistance from the youth from different areas of society and for different reasons. Resistance came from both middle and working classes. The Edelweiss Pirates were working class youths, similar in organisation to the Hitler Youth, without the military emphasis. Weekend camping trips were organised, where they would attack Hitler Youth Patrol groups. There were different regional groups, namely the Navajos. The leaders of this sector were executed as punishment for opposition to the regime. The Swing Youth were middle class youths opposing the strictness of Nazism in a social aspect. Due to the conservative nature of Nazism, popular songs and dancing were banned. The Swing Youth resented this and met together to listen to American songs, dance and wear bourgeois clothing. They also attended city-centre nightclubs. Hitler saw them as a threat to the regime because he believed they were a group of promiscuous youths with an unabashed pleasure in sexuality. Although they were not antifascist, they sought a counter identity and this is what Hitler disliked about the group.
Although these two resistance movements in the youth were fairly widespread, and Hitler obviously saw them as a threat (shown by the execution of the Navajos leaders), they were both passive groups: they exhibited behaviour at odds with expected social values. On the other hand, the White Rose, a student group led by Hans and Sophie Scholl, was an active resistance group. They felt they were old enough to make their own decisions, having grown up in a traditional Germany. This explains why their resistance was active – they felt more passionately about changing Germany back to its former glory. Although it can be seen that youth resisted due to their parent’s beliefs, Hans and Sophie’s father had little to do with their resistance. Their sister, Inge claimed that Hans’ change had ‘nothing to do with his father’s objections…it was something else.
The leaders told him that his songs were not allowed and when he made light of this prohibition, they threatened punishment’. It is proved that Hitler treated opposition seriously, especially youth resistance. It prevented him from his idea of indoctrinating the youth. This is shown by the creation of a special youth section of the Secret Police and a youth concentration camp set up in Neuwied. Resistance of the younger children was less likely to occur because their minds were more easily indoctrinated.